Attorney: Protest prompted ‘deferral’ of lease |

Attorney: Protest prompted ‘deferral’ of lease

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — An attorney for Wilderness Workshop in Carbondale said this week he believes a protest filed by that organization was a big part of a recent decision to hold off on leasing nearly 400 acres of public lands in Garfield County to the energy industry.

Peter Hart, the attorney for Wilderness Workshop and other organizations, confirmed Thursday that he had filed a protest against the leasing of 381 acres of land in the Mamm Creek/Beaver Creek area south of the Colorado River.

And he said, “I believe ours was the only protest submitted” as part of the public comment period for the leasing proposal.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service together are in charge of oil and gas leasing on public lands in western Colorado. They were planning to offer the Mamm Creek lease along with leases for numerous other parcels in Garfield and Moffatt counties.

The lease auction, which is moving ahead with the parcels other than the Mamm Creek/Beaver Creek acreage, is set for Aug. 8.

Contacted by the Post Independent about the “deferral” of the Mamm Creek/Beaver Creek lease, BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo would only say, “Right now, we’re just deferring it for further analysis.”

Other officials with the BLM and the Forest Service told the Post Independent they had little knowledge about the reason for the deferral, and referred questions to White River National Forest (WRNF) Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

But Fitzwilliams, contacted late Friday, said the decision to defer the lease sale did not come from him, nor did it originate from the WRNF.

“It’s not our decision,” he said, wondering why anyone would have referred a reporter to his office on this issue.

“I did not object,” added Fitzwilliams, “and I thought we should have moved forward. It was a valid lease.”

He noted that the objections to the Mamm Creek lease sale are similar to objections to leases in the Thompson Divide area, since leasing decisions for both areas were based on a 1993 impact analysis.

The Mamm Creek lease protest was filed on June 10, on behalf of Wilderness Workshop and other organizations, “based on the fact that neither the Forest Service or the BLM had adequately considered the impacts of the leasing” on the local environment, Hart said.

Instead, he said, the federal agencies had relied on a 1993 Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“That plan is so out of date,” Hart commented, “but nonetheless they [the two federal agencies] consented to offer this land for lease.”

The WRNF, Hart noted, is working its way through a forest management plan meant to guide a host of land use decisions on the forest over the next 20 years, and the agency’s own policies state that any decisions on leasing should be based on that new plan, once it is completed.

“Existing oil and gas development in the WRNF far exceeds anything predicted or analyzed in the 1993 EIS document,” states the 33-page protest document, maintaining that the 1993 “Reasonable Foreseeable Development Scenario” for the entire WRNF was 23 wells. The protest goes on to state that 77 wells already have been approved for the WRNF, more than three times the number predicted in 1993.

“In the Mamm Peak area alone,” the protest states “the BLM approved nearly 70 wells accessing federal minerals under the forest in 2010. The Forest Service’s 1993 EIS thus never planned for or analyzed impacts associated with the level of oil and gas development present on the WRNF today.”

He said Wilderness Workshop received an email from the BLM recently, announcing that “they were deferring the parcel due to the need for additional analysis. That said, I do feel like the protest we filed had an impact on their decision. Whether they say it or not, it seems to us like there has to be come sort of connection there.”

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